She had bathed quickly;
And settled down.
Her days had a routine etched out for her;
Fire and water.
Babuji would wake shortly;
And demand his daily cup of tea.
Then Amma would start her day;
With rants about the bad times they were living in.
He was a late riser;
Languorous and lithe.
The courtyard would be full of children;
As soon as the sun was up.
Razia would come with her pitcher;
And a plethora of complaints.
"Bibi, that sahukar is a lout…."
"What will become of these lazy children, Allah?"
They wouldn’t stop coming.
" Bibi, these brinjals taste like heaven;
Why don’t you try some?", was Mehmood’s daily call.
She hadn’t heard him change for years;
The shrill voice breaking through the din that followed the first rays of sunlight.
The little village was slowly coming to life;
In anticipation of another long, arduous day.
"Bahu, will it take long?", Babuji had called for tea.
He was still asleep, she thought;
Reminiscing the long night that preceded this bright morning.
He had stroked her voluptuous body with practiced, strong hands;
And had accompanied her to carnal bliss.
She smiled to herself;
There was something she wanted to tell him.
How could she? She smiled again.
Maybe she could confide in Amma.
The children ran out towards the noise;
That seemed to come from far.
"Arre, what has happened early in the morning?"
Muttering, Babuji stood up to move towards the door.
"Haven’t I been telling you…"Amma cried, voice booming;
Just as Babuji unbolted the door and stepped out.
"Naara-e-Takbir, Allah Ho Akbar!" cried the mob;
Carrying flags on their shoulders.
Babuji spotted Yusuf who seemed to be coming close.
"Bhai, what is happening?"demanded Babuji, his eyes wide;
Yusuf lowered his eyes, and spoke;
"It is out of our hands now, Babuji;
The country is breaking up!"
She had never seen Babuji like this;
Face flushed, mind in turmoil.
He was up by now, walking around the house;
With long masculine strides.
"We are not going anywhere, Babuji" he spoke;
For the first time that morning.
" Jeevan Bhaiya, what can be done?"
Yusuf had come into the courtyard;
His eyes downcast and silent.
She had been tying rakhis on his gaunt, farmer wrists;
From the time she had been married.
"What will become of our house?" he enquired;
His voice was now tinged with anger.
" At least we’ll be spared!" declared Amma.
"Yusuf beta, you take care please…"she continued;
Her bird-like chirp hit the ear-drums like bullets.
Suddenly the morning lost its charm;
Balmy and languid, the day dragged on.
The children tired of playing the same games;
Retired into the dark, cool confines of their respective homes.
She had finished cooking the afternoon meal;
Without checking for salt.
Her mind wandered;
Where would they go?
‘Hindustan’, they said.
But wasn’t this Hindustan?
She knew that the firangi rule would come to an end;
And they would be free.
Gandhiji was a fearless warrior;
A saint whom millions worshipped.
Then, why were they being asked to leave?
The evening wore on;
Stars had begun peeping out.
He had gone out of the house;
Angry at the turn of events.
She stood at the window;
Looking out towards the dirt road.
The tentative knocks on the door;
Reached her ears.
She flew down the steps;
Confident that it was him.
She threw the door open with a smile;
Only to step back in horror.
Yusuf stood there;
Unsheathed sword in hand.
Eight others stood around;
The steel glinting in the moonlit night.
"Lajjo, pack your things….;
We are leaving today!"he said;
His voice heavy with emotion.
She couldn’t move;
Shaking she started to walk backwards.
Yusuf and his men came in quickly;
Closing the door behind them.
"Babuji!"he cried "Come with me."
Amma sprinted down the stairs;
Defying her age.
"Chalo Beta, let’s go," she rushed towards Yusuf;
Tears flowing down her eyes.
Everyone had gathered in the courtyard;
And no one moved.
He had come back to find the door bolted;
Locking him outside.
Yusuf had put his head out, surveyed the area;
And invited him in the house.
He didn’t speak;
Just stared into space.
"Let’s get moving", Yusuf exhorted;
Getting impatient with his men;
They were raring to go.
They stepped out quietly;
Their feet failing to make any noise.
Yusuf and his men walked alongside;
Shielding them, looking around for miscreants.
They walked through the village;
Doors shut, it resembled a ghost town.
Yusuf led the group, sword in hand;
Carefully treading as if on a tinder-box.
‘Hindustan’ was close, said he;
What name did the land they were leaving bear?
‘Pakistan’, Yusuf had explained earlier in the day;
In a shaky tone.
They walked as if in a trance;
Pulling themselves along.
She had taken a last look at the house;
The tears too wouldn’t come.
She smelt fire some distance away;
They quickened their steps.
"Hindustan is a mile away", announced Yusuf;
His voice choking with the smoke.
Babuji had started coughing;
And Amma was gasping by now.
He had still not spoken.
They crossed over;
Under cover of the night.
Yusuf had discovered a camp for them;
Leading them he elaborated how.
He placed a hand on Yusuf’s shoulder;
Who turned back, teary-eyed.
"Thank You, Brother!," he said;
Yusuf looked away;
Unable to comprehend a response.
"Let’s not stop", he could manage;
"We have to reach the camp."
It was in sight, finally;
The camp that Yusuf had found.
"There are only Hindus and Sikhs in the camp;
And you will be safe," Yusuf said with a smile.
He walked up to the sentry;
Patted him on the shoulder;
Pushing a wad of notes into his hand.
He held Babuji’s hand and they entered;
Oblivious of the future.
Yusuf led us to a tent;
And turned to go.
Babuji held him by his shoulders;
Tears welling up in his eyes.
"Beta…"He joined his hands;
In reverence of this man;
Who had saved their lives.
Long after Yusuf had gone;
Babuji wept so did Amma, so did she.
He sat transfixed;
Eyes white, hair disheveled.
The night dragged on forever;
Black as charcoal.
Morning creeped up unnoticed;
No one had spoken.
The steps fell heavy on the parched earth;
Big and brown, these were sturdy legs.
"We felled them like flies!"
"A great job done!"
"These followers of Jinnah…"
He stepped out to make sense of the commotion.
"What happened, bhaiya?"
"Those Mussalmans! They had come into the camp;
We slaughtered them all, sons of pigs!"
He knew at once.
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